Probing Ice Sheets for ESA

January 4, 2017

In August 2016, the European Space Agency (ESA) approached MetaSensing in regards to building a Ka-band radar altimeter. This project would be an integral tool during KAREN, a campaign to measure the Greenland ice sheet with the goal of validating similar measurements from radar altimeter satellites CryoSat and AltiKa.


MetaSensing’s brand-new Ka-band radar altimeter, ready for installation on board the Twin Otter TF-POF aircraft


The real challenge was timing: MetaSensing had to adapt a Ka-band SAR sensor prototype into a rugged altimeter able to operate in arctic conditions, be installed on a new platform with limited space, and account for the presence of other remote sensing instruments — all in less than two months!


Thanks to the small size of the altimeter, it was possible to fit both the altimeter and a laser instrument in the same hatch


Fortunately, MetaSensing was up to the task, and the Ka-band altimeter flew a successful campaign. The altimeter flew out of Ilulissat, Greenland and acquired data over various snow and ice conditions on the Greenland ice sheet.

The Ka-band altimeter was joined by the ASIRAS Ku-band radar, a laser-scanning Riegl Q240i, and multiple geodesic GPS and inertial navigation systems on board the Twin Otter aircraft.


The Twin Otter aircraft preparing for the campaign at Ilulissat airport


An AS350 helicopter was flown with members of the University of Leeds to make concurrent ground measurements of the ice along the flown track. Additionally, corner reflectors were placed on the ground for radar calibration.


Flying over the Sermeq Kujalleq, the second-biggest glacier in the world after Antarctica. This glacier reaches the sea at Ilulissat, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where it produces about 10% of all icebergs around Greenland


The ground crew with the helicopter take in-situ measurements of the ice


A breathtaking view out the bubble window of the Twin Otter aircraft


Malcolm Davidson (ESA) joined an acquisition flight as a special guest and is looking forward to the next Cryosat campaign


MetaSensing’s Ka-band altimeter demonstrated its interferometric capabilities at altitudes ranging from a few hundreds of feet up to more than ten thousand feet above the ground. It demonstrates a robust method for determining altitude even in low visibility situations, proving that a campaign can be efficiently executed even in sub-optimal weather conditions. This new tool will be invaluable in future campaigns to scientists and researchers worldwide, and will take polar ice and climate change studies to the next level.


Preliminary results of the campaign. By using the two radar channels, it is easy to obtain interferograms


The MetaSensing team witnessed one of Greenland’s most spectacular sights: the northern lights!


The MetaSensing team witnessed one of Greenland’s most spectacular sights: the northern lights!


More References:

News on ESA Website


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